Hear from Practitioners

Continuing Education Opens Doors in the Dental Professions

Posted by Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA on September 21, 2016

From dental assistant to the Dean of Health Sciences, dental hygienist Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA, credits all the open career doors she’s encountered to the decision to further her education. Now her focus is on giving back to future dental and dental hygiene students through the development of programs and services that will ensure their success. “There is no greater feeling than being a part of someone else achieving their dream of becoming a health professional,” says Prof. Baker during a recent sit down with the ADEA GoDental team.


ADEA GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a career in dental hygiene?

Lisa M. Baker (LB): I began my career in dentistry as a dental assistant when I was 15 years old. I signed up for an office technologies course in high school that had a work co-op requirement. I was lucky enough to interview in a dental office for a part-time receptionist position. That position led to on-the-job training as a dental assistant.

Once I turned 19, I enlisted in the United States Air Force as a dental technician. Due to my previous dental experience, I was quickly trained as a prophylaxis technician (the Air Force’s version of a dental hygienist). I realized that I did not have all of the information I needed to properly educate and treat patients with advanced periodontal disease based on the training that I received. In 2001, the Air Force announced a unique opportunity titled the Dental Hygiene Training Scholarship Program. The program would pay for selected members to attend a dental hygiene program while still earning all military pay and benefits. My previous supervisor encouraged me to apply to the program. I completed the prerequisite courses while on active duty, applied and was selected as one of the first 10 airmen to receive the Dental Hygiene Training Scholarship. I attended the St. Petersburg College Dental Hygiene Program and graduated with a bachelor of applied science in 2008.  


(GD): How did you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental hygiene profession?

(LB): I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by the most amazing, knowledgeable and caring mentors. Tami Grzesikowski, currently the Senior Director for Allied Dental Education at the American Dental Education Association, was the dental hygiene program director at St. Petersburg College, where she went on to become the Dean of Health Education. During my first year in the St. Petersburg College Dental Hygiene Program, I interviewed Tami for an assignment. I noticed the Master of Education degree from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on her wall and told her I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Little did I know I would end up following a very similar path to the Dean of Health Sciences position.  


(GD): What does a typical day in your current position entail?

(LB): This is a great question because I am not sure that there is a typical day. Each day presents new and unique challenges for multiple health sciences disciplines, so there are not typically two days that are alike. My job is to ensure that faculty, staff and students have the tools they need to be successful. The success of each program, faculty member and student can involve a variety of issues. Our students at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) are nontraditional students and are presented with challenges and barriers to achieving their dream of becoming a health sciences professional. My job is to develop and sustain programs and services that will ensure their success even as those needs change on a regular basis.


(GD): What skills or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar role should hold?

(LB): Flexibility, positivity, humility, motivation, dedication, organization skills and leadership skills are a must. Someone in this position needs the ability to remain calm in the face of any challenge.


(GD): What is your favorite part about being in your current role and why?

(LB): My favorite part of this position is the impact I am able to make for each of the health sciences programs, faculty and students at CCCC. With my health sciences experience in dental hygiene and Air Force leadership background, I am able to make a broad impact on multiple professions, including nursing, dental hygiene/assisting, medical assisting, veterinary medical technology and health information technology. I am able to give the health sciences professions a voice as senior leadership at the college.


(GD): What motivated you to continue your education beyond the entry level?

(LB): My mentors motivated me to continue my education and always pushed me to pursue advanced degrees alongside my dream of becoming a dental hygiene educator. Obtaining my bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, followed by a master’s degree in dental hygiene education, has opened every door to where I am now as the Dean of Health Sciences at CCCC. I am in the process of applying as a doctoral candidate to earn a terminal credential. Education is the one thing that the world can never take away from you once it is earned.


(GD): How did your dental hygiene education help you prepare for your career?

(LB): My dental hygiene education helped prepare me because it taught me to work as a part of a team, multi-task, critically think, research topics as well as identify, analyze and solve problems and to never give up.  


(GD): What is one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?

(LB): I wish I would have known how much I would miss actually teaching the future of dental hygiene. I do have a larger impact on health professions as a whole, but I miss the daily interaction with students that allowed them to achieve their dreams. There is no greater feeling than being a part of someone else achieving their dream of becoming a health professional.


(GD): If you could give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role similar to yours, what would it be?

(LB): Find a mentor who will coach you, develop you and provide you with the tools to reach your dreams! I know without a doubt that my mentors are the reason that I have pursued advanced education and an alternative career pathway. I did not make an educational or career advancement decision without seeking the input and feedback of my mentors.


About Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA:

Lisa Baker Final

Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA
Dean of Health Sciences - Education Administration
Central Carolina Community College - Sanford, NC



Lisa M. Baker, M.S., RDH, CDA, received her Master’s Degree in Dental Hygiene Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and her undergraduate degree from St. Petersburg College, FL, where she graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into the National Dental Hygiene Honor Society. She has seven years of clinical dental hygiene teaching experience, six years of didactic teaching experience, 24 years dental assisting/dental hygiene experience and is a member of the United States Air Force Reserve.


She is currently the Dean of Health Sciences at Central Carolina Community College. She also serves as the Governmental Affairs Committee Chair and the ADHA Delegate for the North Carolina Dental Hygiene Association. Previously, Prof. Baker has served as a committee member of the American Dental Association Committee on National Boards and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Committee on National Boards. She is also interested in public health, specifically research related to oral health literacy education and currently serves as a member of the North Carolina Dental Society Committee on Children’s Dental Health Programs.